⭐️How to Write a Personal Statement: Story Basics

Law schools don’t ask you to write a social-issues statement or a legal statement; they ask you to write a personal statement, and the best way to do that is to tell a story about yourself. Why?

  1. Stories are sticky. An admissions officer is unlikely to remember your stump speech about diversity or your list of meaningful classes and extracurricular experiences. She is much more likely to remember a story that lets your character shine through.
  2. Stories are more successful. You have to be brilliant to pull off an extended rumination. Even professional writers have trouble making think-pieces feel fresh. Anyone can tell a story, though, and you happen to be the only one who can tell yours.
  3. Stories send the right signals. You can’t make an explicit argument that you’re thoughtful and interesting. You can, however, be thoughtful and interesting on the page by telling a good story about yourself.

But how do you tell a story?

My definition of a story is simple: something happens, and you learn or grow. Here’s the math: story = event(s) + lesson.

The events don’t need to be dramatic. An essay about catching butterflies could be just as compelling as an essay about catching white-collar criminals. I remember a great personal statement about a plaque in a library. The event was tiny: the narrator read the plaque. But when you’re choosing an event, size doesn’t matter. It’s what you do with it that counts.

As far as the lesson goes, you don’t have to say “I learned,” or “I realized.” But one way or another, you must show the reader how the event came to shape you.

If a school asks why you want to study law, your task is to tell a story about your motivation. Show the committee the whole arc of your decision. What set you on this path, and how did you arrive at this moment?

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